From St. Mike’s to Pfizer: Q&A with Alum Marissa Smith

July 26, 2021
Faculty/Staff Report

It’s pretty much impossible these days to not hear the name “Pfizer” at least once on the daily.

And whether or not you got the Pfizer vax, this much we can all agree on: It’s a big-time multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporation. 

Also? It’s a prime example of the kinds of places where St. Mike’s graduates are putting their talents to work—grads like Marissa Smith. 

Marissa graduated from Saint Michael’s in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry. Fast forward to today, and she’s a Senior Research Associate at Pfizer.

How’d you end up at Pfizer? Tell us about your job!

I currently work in the oncology research unit at Pfizer in La Jolla. I specifically perform biochemical and biophysical assays to characterize drug binding and drug activity early in the drug discovery and optimization process. I moved to San Diego after getting my Master’s in Biochemistry to find a job in the pharmaceutical industry and I was hired at Pfizer shortly after. 

I love working at Pfizer and being involved in oncology drug discovery. My dad passed away from cancer a few years ago, so it’s been important to me to find a job where I can work on some aspect of cancer therapeutics.

What made you choose St. Mike’s for your undergrad degree?

I’m from Massachusetts (just south of Boston), but grew up snowboarding in Stowe, so I already loved Vermont and was looking for a smaller school where I would be part of a tight knit community. Getting a liberal arts education was also very important to me. I think being knowledgeable about more than just your career specialty can really make you stand out.

In what ways do you think St. Mike’s helped prepare you for your career?

Since St. Mike’s is a liberal arts college, you take a lot of different classes with a lot of different kinds of students, so you’re constantly surrounded by different opinions and people with different perspectives. I truly feel just being around people with different perspectives opens up your mind and makes you more sympathetic and a better person, which translates to any career. 

Also, taking different classes other than your specialty, especially those you may be weaker in, trains your mind to learn new things and adapt. Not to mention the small classes and community allowed me to grow close with my professors who enabled me to ask for extra help and really excel in my science classes, which were naturally pretty challenging.

What kind of student is St. Mike’s perfect for? What’s the culture like?

St. Mike’s is perfect for a student that is looking for a community to be a part of. St. Mike’s provides a great education, but there are so many ways to get involved whether it’s through outdoor hobbies, especially winter ones, athletics, giving back to the community, or just becoming close with students that share your major. 

Also, I absolutely feel like St Mike’s has a culture around being outdoors and caring for the environment. This culture impacted me and has stuck with me. Part of the biology curriculum is going to the forest next door and learning about different insects and plant biology. 

Students at St Mike’s are literally always snowboarding/skiing, snowshoeing, going to the lake, playing frisbee on the lawn, rock climbing, hiking. Everyone I knew was active in some way. And everyone cared about the environment in some way too, it’s just the general vibe. I think both of these aspects of the culture are because the school is located in the Burlington area and that’s definitely the overall culture in Burlington.

Got a favorite class or experience at St. Mike’s that reinforced your decision to go there?

For my work study, I was placed in the chemistry department and that shaped my whole experience at St. Mike’s. Professor Paone-Vogt (Jenn) ran the chemistry department and her office was like a home base for all the chemistry students.

Her support combined with all of the truly amazing chem/biochem professors made me fall in love with science. Professors Findley, Lamos, Chant, and Schroll still stand out as forming my passion for science.

Also, I took a class called Social Problems taught by an adjunct professor and I still remember the topics we discussed. It’s still my favorite class I’ve ever taken.

Any advice for students considering St. Mike’s?

Be a biochemistry major (: .. kidding. I guess some advice would be if you choose St. Mike’s, find a way to get involved as soon as you can. It’s obviously small compared to many universities, so you have the opportunity to really grow close to your professors and your peers, so take advantage. 

The professors here have a passion for teaching. They’re typically not here for funding on large research projects, so they’re really here because they love teaching and it shows, so take advantage of that as well. If you put real effort into your education and experience, St. Mike’s will really prepare you for your future.

Want to hear more about the biochem major at St. Mike’s?


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